LOVINSTON — Just outside the Nelson County Courthouse on Saturday afternoon, about 50 demonstrators marched and shouted “No justice, no peace! Whose schools? Our schools!”
The rally was in support of Ti’lor Harper, a sophomore at Nelson County High School. On Aug. 26, Harper had two of his teeth chipped as two officers wrestled him to the ground. The school division said the student became confrontational; the boy’s mother said he was just checking on his cousin who was involved in a fight broken up by the officers.
Nelson Sheriff David Hill was one of those who restrained the boy while he was facedown on the floor of the school.
A 58-second video posted on social media shows the boy on the ground while the officers work to handcuff him. Meanwhile, students are screaming at the men to get off the student.
The Nelson school division canceled classes Aug. 27, partly because of the incident. Schools were closed again Monday because of unspecified threats of violence, but classes resumed Tuesday.
Students at Nelson County High School walked out of class early Tuesday morning to continue to call attention to the case, and the Nelson County commonwealth’s attorney has asked the Virginia State Police to investigate the incident. Harper remains in a detention center.
Saturday’s rally was organized by a Garrisonville activist who asked to be identified as Jolly. He runs the popular @jolly_good_ginger Instagram account, where he organizes outreach for anti-racism demonstrations. He said he was particularly distraught by Harper’s story.
“I go to various protests around the country. I try to stay actively involved in social justice. And this right here is my backyard, I live two hours down the road. So if you come to my backyard, and you’re violating children through police brutality and excessive force, who would I be to sit in my house and let this happen in my backyard?” Jolly said.
Jolly said he feels strongly that it takes a village to raise a child, and that’s why he’s passionate about using his large social media platform to organize demonstrations.
“We came to say to [Amber] Harper that our village is with you. So when I see a village abusing a child, I bring my village.”
Demonstrators came from Nelson and Amherst counties, Charlottesville and Northern Virginia to lend their support to Harper’s family and pressure the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office for answers. Jolly encouraged the crowd to be peaceful and respectful of the law when marching and to stay on the sidewalk and off the streets to allow traffic to pass.
Almost half of the demonstrators were children and teens, many of whom are students in Nelson County Public Schools.
“I’m here because it’s not fair that he has to go to school and not feel safe, and everybody else can’t feel safe,” said a Nelson County High School student who attended the protest. She asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
She said the incident has made her fear for her own safety at school.
Delaney Armenti and Heaven Turner, both students at Sweet Briar College, made the trip to attend the rally because they were disturbed when they saw online what had happened to Harper.
“I think for me personally, being a person of color and going to predominantly white schools, I feel this oppression … so when we get opportunities to advocate and stand up, and any moment we can get, we should rise above and show that the Black community is here to support others,” Armenti said.
“It’s wrong. That’s really it. You know, he’s a 15-year-old boy and he had his teeth [chipped]. It’s wrong,” Turner said.
Amber Harper, Ti’lor’s mother, said she was encouraged to see so many young people in attendance.
“I was very shocked to see so many people come out today. It’s good to know that Ti’lor does have support. From the older to the middle to the young kids, it really means a lot, and these younger kids are what’s going to make a difference in our new generation,” she said. “With them being able to speak out and understand what’s going on, it’s going to make a difference. So I’m just very pleased and very grateful that these people came out.”
Harper said previously that her son was facing two felony assault charges in juvenile court. At a hearing Aug. 27, Hill withdrew a charge involving himself, she said. Confirmation of what Ti’lor Harper is charged with could not be obtained Saturday.
For about half an hour, the group marched through Lovingston and in the area of U.S. 29. The night prior to the rally, people placed “We support Nelson County Sheriff Department” signs outside their homes and on the perimeter of the streets. A group of about seven counter-protestors walked behind the march and took videos of demonstrators’ faces. There was no law enforcement presence at the rally.
Jolly said he received threats on social media from Nelson residents telling him not to come to Lovingston and to cancel the rally.
Meanwhile, Harper said her son is still very shaken up from the incident.
“Ti’lor’s doing OK, but he’s still really emotionally a wreck. He still doesn’t understand why or how this happened so quickly. But I’m just telling him to keep his head up,” she said.
Harper thanked the crowd for coming out in support of her son.
“He is a 15-year-old boy. He did not deserve for this to happen to him. He did not [brandish] a weapon. He did not give any threats, and here he is with two chipped teeth in the detention center,” Harper said. “We’re here to speak up for Ti’lor to say that he does have support and that we know what happened was wrong.”